Keenan Anderson was an educator and a parent, just like me. When I saw his death on social media, my heart felt like it weighed a thousand pounds as it sank into my stomach. Once again, we fight for justice, using another hashtag for another unarmed death because of police brutality.
I saw his name trending on social media and went through the same routine I always do. I posted a tribute to this stranger who looked like he could be related to me. We share the same skin; likely, many shared experiences with racial trauma. But I still have my life, while his was taken too soon.
My daughter, Reya, and her cousin Darius are both 12 years old, seventh graders in middle school. Darius is currently taking a social justice course, and Keenan’s death was the topic of discussion today in his class. Reya listened earnestly as Darius sobbed between words. “He was a teacher just like Auntie Ro! He was a dad, just like Uncle Antoine! Why did they have to kill him?”
I looked at these two children who mean the world to me and saw the heavy weight on their shoulders. My sister and I have had conversations with them about the Black Lives Matter movement and the dangers that may come when they begin driving. These are conversations that are very common in households with Black children.
We don’t have the luxury of choosing whether or not to discuss race with our sons and daughters.
Racial injustice is a reality for them, and we harm them by attempting to shield them from it. Some white friends discuss racial issues with their children, and some say, “They’re so young; I want to keep their lives as light as I can.” Isn’t that the epitome of privilege? How lovely it must be to choose to make your children’s lives light.
I don’t have that choice. I am raising two outspoken daughters who will, eventually, have to discern the time and place to be their authentic selves. I am raising a son in the 99th percentile for height and weight. He’s four years old now, and everyone comments on how tall he is and how cute and precious he is. Where does the switch happen? When does my child go from being cute to being a threat?
Being Black in America is hard. Being a parent of Black children in America is hard. Seeing hashtags of unarmed Black people being murdered as a result of police brutality is hard. If you are a Black person in America, you have experienced racial trauma. It’s hard. It’s real. It’s not something we can shield ourselves or our children from.
That being said, if I had a choice, I would choose to be Black every day of my life. Even with the hardships, daily racial bias, microaggressions, and inequities, I would choose it over and over again. Blackness is pride, joy, and passion. Being Black means beauty, resilience, multiple intelligences, and strength. It means code-switching, artistic expression, speaking with our eyes, and saying a thousand words.
I saw a t-shirt on social media that said, “Being Black is dangerous, but it’s lit.” The words popped up on my phone last year directly after I saw a post about George Floyd’s trial. I cried, I laughed, and then I cried again. Those words pretty much sum up being Black in America.
As a Black woman, I’ll be seen as aggressive, loud, intimidating, and overbearing. My days may be numbered if a police officer thinks I’m giving too much lip. Even still. I am SO PROUD to be a part of this mighty race. This often misunderstood but daily imitated race. We are the trendsetters and a huge part of America’s culture, the constant source of entertainment, creativity, and the backbone of a country that hates us.
There have been too many hashtags, too many tears, and too many lives taken too soon. While I still have breath in my body, I will continue to uplift our race and fight for racial justice. My Blackness is at the forefront of my identity. Above being a woman, a parent, an educator, above everything, I am Black most of all. It’s in my mind, my blood, my soul.
It’s February, so my students will celebrate Black History Month. I wish I could teach them that racial oppression is over and that injustice toward our people has ceased. I wish I could say that Dr. King’s dream became a reality. I can’t say any of those things. Instead, we will celebrate our people’s journey, the accomplishments and triumphs of our mighty race.
I will instill Black pride in my children, nephews, and students. I will continue to say prayers for the families of Black men and women whose lives were taken too soon. I will mourn their losses with them, these strangers who feel like family to me.
In Swahili, the word Ase’ means “I am with you.” It is a bold and powerful word that affirms out loud what resonates in one’s heart. To my ancestors and every brother and sister whose journey was cut short by racism and police brutality, I am with you. Your life was not in vain. Those of us left will continue to honor you by saying your name, spreading Black pride, and being a united front on your behalf. Asé.